A Road Not Taken (by Apple)

I was just starting out as a reporter back in 1976 and had to have a 35mm camera. The problem was, the Nikons at the little camera store in my town were way too much money – so I bought a clone.

It was, as I recall, an import from Russia. I may be making up this part, but I believe it was called a Cosmorex.

Cosmorex SEThe Cosmorex was one of the great fruits of the workers’ revolution: It weighed about three times what any other 35mm weighed and appeared to be made out of cast iron. I stooped forward when I put it around my neck.

It was missing two or three common shutter speeds. The engineering? You could call it “industrial approximate.”

But it was cheap, and it worked, so I was content.

I’m thinking about my Cosmorex these days because of my new clone, a Power Computing PowerCurve 601/120.

Power Computing PowerCurve Mac cloneI got it with an eye towards replacing the Power Mac 7200 that is my main machine at work. As everyone who reads Low End Mac knows, the 7200 is not upgradable. The PowerCurve is, and I want to move up to a 604 or G3.

However, now that I have the machine, I’m not sure what to make of it – the PCurve is, well, plain. If you’ve ever shopped eBay, you’ll occasionally see a picture of someone’s warehouse piled high with PC upon PC upon PC. They look old, dirty, worn out.

The PCurve would fit in that picture.

My copy is scuffed beige – and noisy. Far noisier than any of my Macs. There is a PC-style fan mounted inside that pushes out more air than I have ever felt coming from the rear of a Mac.

Many Macs have a Chinese puzzle fiendishness to them. For instance, I literally could not figure out how to dismantle my 6400 until I got the take-apart manual.

The PCurve’s case is PC straightforward: Loosen three oversized screws and yank. The metal top pulls off, and you’re staring down into something that looks like a ‘386 from 1992. The metal is bare, the edges are sharp, the frills are nonexistent.

Unlike Macs, there’s nothing here to make you stop and admire the craftsmanship. I just wanted to get my work done and close it up so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.

Power Mac 7500It’s now running (loudly) on the desk behind me while I type this on my 7200.

But here’s the kicker: I don’t feel about the PCurve the way I feel about any of my Macs – and I like that.

Macs are beautiful, in the way industrial designers use the word, both inside and out, in hardware and software. If the obsessed among us will admit the truth, that beauty is a distraction: wonderful, but a distraction for the way it pulls you from the job at hand to – what? – pay attention to the machine.

The PCurve is not beautiful. Hell, it’s not even attractive by PC standards. And it’s not distracting.

We’re just beginning our relationship. (“Relationship” meaning, in this case, something like the relationship between a car and owner or a carpenter and his tools.)

With luck, I won’t notice the PCurve unless something goes wrong. What I’ll see is the work I need to do; the computer will be transparent, serving my needs without fuss or muss – or enchantment. It’s the road not taken by Apple, and a reminder of both what we get and give up when we use our Macs.

Keywords: #powercomputing #powercurve

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